Oct 07 2022

State and Local Services Should Eye an Agile Approach to Digital Services

Citizens benefit from a delivery of minimum functionality in a short time frame.

Widespread adoption of digital services by state and local governments in the wake of pandemic lockdowns has boosted the effectiveness of citizen services. Residents of a state or city often have options to go online and interact with their government from anywhere electronically.

In its “Digital Services Playbook,” the U.S. Digital Service wisely cautions against delivering digital services that don’t fit the bill, whether because they do not get the job done, they cost too much or they take too long to develop.

To that end, the service developed the playbook of 13 “plays” produced from best practices in the private and public sectors for state and local governments to follow. A key play of tremendous value is the prescription to “build the service using agile and iterative practices.” 

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The recommendation advises government agencies to build a minimum viable product as quickly as possible under the expertise of teams as small as possible. Specifically, agencies should release a product (for example, an application) that fulfills one function for citizens (perhaps, paying a government bill) as quickly as feasible. The playbook suggests an initial release within three months, guiding agencies to think as small and as utilitarian as possible.

Successful Government Projects Can Start Small and Build

The Moreno Valley Utility in Moreno Valley, Calif., provides an example. About five years ago, the government-owned utility introduced a mobile application, called MyMVU, that enables residents to pay their power bills from their smartphones. As the app has evolved, its capabilities have grown to include tracking energy use, service activation and deactivation, and participation in rebate programs.

Some municipalities have adopted agile thinking by partnering with local universities, where they establish smart city test beds to pilot citizen services. In Tempe, Ariz., a collaboration with Arizona State University took a cloud-based mapping project created to reduce the amount of water required for city landscaping and built upon it to expand natural shade in the city through tree canopies.

These cities and their partners have demonstrated the power of building applications through iterative practices. Others would do well to follow in their footsteps.

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